Even as coach Lovie Smith was being fired as head coach for failures of the Bears offenses under him, quarterback Jay Cutler was being given another vote of confidence as a franchise quarterback in Chicago.
At least for one more year.
Jays won a lot of games, GM Phil Emery said on Tuesday. I think the important thing is we continue to build around him. That to me is part of the equation.
And as to whether Cutler is the long-term answer for the Bears, that answer is going to come as we move forward with a new head coach, said Emery, whose fate as a general manager now rests very heavily on Cutlers success. Am I convinced that Jay has the talent to be that? Yes, I am.
Ill say the same thing that I said this summer: I see Jay as a franchise quarterback. Weve got to build around him. Thats been the goal from the beginning, to build around Jay and to build our team towards championships.
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Emery did stop short of stating that the new Bears coach will be handcuffed to Cutler the way Emery was for a year with Smith. But any candidate who does not see in Cutler what Emery does will need to be very, very convincing in his job interview.
Im not saying that the new coach has to buy in on Cutler, Emery said. Im saying that Im looking for a head coach that can take all the unique talents that we have and bring them together toward winning championships.
The future in the middle
Emery refused to commit to a contract extension for middle linebacker Brian Urlacher back before the season, with Urlacher coming off a knee injury. But while doubters focused on what Urlacher wasnt (the same as he was a decade ago), Emery was seeing significant progress through the season before Urlacher went down with a hamstring injury in the loss to Seattle.
Urlacher looked a little rusty early in the year, Emery said, which Urlacher himself admitted. By the Seattle game Urlacher had speed and burst back. And Emery was satisfied with how Urlacher also functioned in pass drops.
What makes Urlachers return difficult to gauge is how the new head coach will value Urlachers leadership and fit into possibly a new scheme.
The things that are very difficult to replace for Brian and would be to replace for Brian, if we were ever to move in a different direction, is the leadership that he has and the knowledge base that he has with our system, Emery said.
Smiths defensive scheme relied heavily on a defensive tackle capable of consistently winning against single blocking and generating an inside pass rush. He had that with Tommie Harris.
Henry Melton provided some of that last season and was voted a starter in the Pro Bowl despite a chest injury that took him out for a couple of games.
But Melton is a free agent at one of the NFLs most expensive positions and is coming off seasons of seven and six sacks. Re-signing him will be a priority.
Henry had a good year, Emery said. I know he was probably disappointed because he didnt get to finish as well as he wanted because he had a chest injury. He was productive and got better as a run player.
Emery adamantly defended his offseason actions as far as improving the offensive line but conceded that pass protection needed to be improved. The process last offseason was to look at a thin market for unrestricted free agent tackles (several possibilities were not available) and the decision was made in the draft to add to the pass rush with Shea McClellin and add to the stable of playmakers on offense with wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.
My though process was, before we went into the draft, to analyze with our coaches and with our staff, weve got two tackles and we had determined that was our greatest need, Emery said. That area will be looked at closely again this offseason.
Emery also stated that tight end Kellen Davis had a rough year as a receiver. Indications are that efforts will be made for an upgrade at the position, with input from the new head coach.